At our last City Council meeting, we had a large turnout with strong public participation on an important project, a unique characteristic of our city’s political process that I both admire and applaud. Most of the public input was respectful, civil and genuine, another aspect of our local government that we should surely be proud of.
However, a few citizens instead chose to engage in a despicable tactic that I call the shame game, resorting to defamatory mudslinging, name-calling and personal attacks. The shame game is cowardly. It attempts to divert the audience’s attention away from the real issues at hand and refocus it on the alleged character of individuals. It intentionally ignores what’s right or wrong, safe or unsafe, healthy or unhealthy, and praiseworthy or harmful about the proposal being examined. In short, the shame game attempts to shut down all discussion on the merits of the matter under scrutiny. And if that were all it did, it would be pathetic enough.
But the shame game is more than just a red-herring attempt to get listeners to ignore the real issues. It maliciously seeks to disparage individuals and by extension their relatives, their friends, their associates and their ideas and opinions. In fact, the shame game is built almost entirely on inclusion and exclusion, suggesting that if you’re not part of the crowd making the most noise, then you’re an outsider.
Shame-gamers often feign tolerance, respect and inclusiveness, but they are instantly and rather curiously closed-minded, rude and unmerciful to anyone who dares to disagree with them. And in the end, those who play the shame game have no real standards at all, constantly shifting their political opinions to fight against the perceived establishment, sailing whichever way they perceive the political winds are blowing at any given time, preying on ignorance and fear, and spewing venom in opposition to virtually anything and everything that gets in their way.
Unfortunately, the shame game not only destroys the reputation of those who play it and harms those who happen to be the target of its derogatory attacks, it also sullies the reputation of our entire community, causing others to question our collective sanity, our integrity, our perceived exclusivity, and really why they would ever want to visit our town or do business with us at all. In fact, it makes them feel like outsiders, too, and that in turn severely diminishes their willingness to help us succeed.
Stop and think seriously for a moment about the message we sent to the rest of the world at our last council meeting. In attendance to witness the proceedings were no less than the following: 1. numerous fourth-graders and their parents; 2. several of our project consultants from G.C. Garcia; 3. representatives from the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada, Nevada Department of Transportation and Las Vegas Paving, state and regional partners who are assisting us with the Interstate 11 project and who regularly help us with many other important transportation projects and services; 4. representatives from Workforce Connections, another regional partner that puts federal dollars to good use in our community to foster job and career opportunities; 5. representatives from at least three major developers anxious to see whether our community is a promising place to make a substantial investment of their wealth; and 6. a TV camera crew intent on broadcasting our deliberations to the rest of Clark County and beyond.
And what did they witness instead? The shame game.
Think of what that teaches our fourth-graders about manners, human dignity and appropriate boundaries for interacting with others. Think of how our state and regional partners, including governmental agencies on which our council members have been graciously invited to participate and continually rely for assistance, now view Boulder City. Think of how our contract consultants, some of whom were the direct target of shame-game attacks, now feel about community relations and their willingness to help us make critical connections with investors.
As for potential investors, both those who were present and those who will surely hear about us through the grapevine, do you really think they’ll be enthusiastic about entrusting their hard-earned millions to a town that they now perceive to be a three-ring circus? And what of the rest of the world whose only perceptions of Boulder City might come from a negative 15-second media sound bite? Will seeing us at our worst make them want to tell their friends anything good about our town? Of course not.
The shame game is shameful. And it’s not OK. In fact, it’s something that every single citizen in our town should be deeply ashamed of.
Fortunately, only a select few shame-gamers are repeat offenders. And to their discredit, I guess I’ve come to expect the worst from them. But possibly even worse than those who serve as shame-game spokespersons is the crowd that raucously cheers when they shout their slanderous aspersions, signaling to our fourth-graders and the rest of the world alike that we not only tolerate such behavior but actually condone it.
Even worse still, there were those both in the audience and sitting behind the dais with me whom I know were uncomfortable with and opposed to the reprehensible shame game that was unfolding before their very eyes, and yet they sat in silence, never daring to raise their voices against that ugly, demeaning behavior. Perhaps they were too ashamed to speak up in the face of the roaring crowd.
Of course, I’m willing to stand alone against the shame-gamers if need be. It’s not only my sworn duty as a public servant but also what my conscience compels me to do. But as has often been said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Then again, I suppose that’s exactly what the shame-gamers are betting on.
Rod Woodbury is mayor of Boulder City. He has been serving on the City Council since 2011 and is the president and managing shareholder of his law firm, Woodbury Law.